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A Family of Strangers by Deborah Tall

A Family's Secret History

A review by Ryan Van Meter

Deborah Tall begins A Family of Strangers, her "lyric essay-cum-memoir," by measuring life's certainty against its mystery. On the first page, she lists "What I know," on the second, "What I don't yet know." Then she attempts to bridge the gulf between the two. Hers is a strenuous effort, often painful, and since it leads to much less than full knowledge, the story of her search becomes the story of this book, as we watch Tall struggle, with what meager knowledge she can gain, to unlock a family history that has been kept from her deliberately.

The past she wants so desperately to open belongs to her father -- the same man responsible for closing it off. Even by the memoir's conclusion, Tall won't fully understand the choices that led him -- a radar expert who worked on the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System and who could disappear for months at a time -- to hide so much of himself and his roots. He seemed strangely perfect for his highly-classified occupation because, first ...

Previously Reviewed by The Iowa Review
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